FE and the Westminster bubble - Nick Isles Blog

Mon 14 Oct 2013

One of the recent criticisms of the way our parliamentary system works is that the selection process for the people who become MPs and then Ministers is too narrow. The current Cabinet have more former male Oxbridge students than women for example. The route to success in politics today is very different to yesteryear. Then parliament was full of people from a wide variety of backgrounds. Industry and commerce sat on the Tory benches. Trades Unionists and former heavy industry workers sat on the Labour benches.  Now the route to success is more formalised. A would-be Minister will typically study a certain approved subject (Politics, Philosophy and Economics PPE, perhaps) at a suitable University. The individual will then spend time working as a researcher for a front bencher, in a central party operation, or making a name for themselves in a think tank before being selected in a “safe” seat. Within two years they would expect to become a Minister. Most of these people thus have no contact with, or knowledge of, Further Education, being overwhelmingly from the private school/academic state school route. 

I saw the system at work and in close-up during my time as a Director of a leading think tank. Such a lack of diversity does mean there are consequences. Thus I was not surprised when in an idle moment a couple of days ago I was looking at the Parliamentary website and saw that of fifty-five parliamentary questions received by the Secretaries of State for Education and for Business, Innovation & Skills (the two bodies with overall responsibility for Further Education Colleges like Milton Keynes) none mentioned FE Colleges.  I decided to look at the Early Day Motions (EDMs).  For those unfamiliar with the term, these are like mini Parliamentary petitions which any MP can start and encourage their colleagues to sign up to.  They’re never voted upon but are seen as putting down a marker about important issues.  Even EDM 552 entitled Apprenticeships and Public Contract, did not mention FE.

So what should be done?  Blame can be cast at politicians, educational elitists and the media, but does casting blame benefit FE Colleges for the future? Of course not. FE represents the most powerful resource the country has for improving the skills of the UK population. Growth happens in localities and FE Colleges are rooted in those communities.  We have the contacts with local business to ensure that what we teach is relevant to the needs of our immediate economies.  Local skill shortages require a local solution, and that is exactly where FE can fill a gap. And this approach fits entirely with the localism agendas espoused by all the main political parties.

So we must make sure our voice is heard. We must celebrate our achievements. We must do what the Principal of MK College Julie Mills and I did the last few weeks which is talk to our MPs and Ministers and show them the new experiences that FE offers so many. We may not be able to do much at the moment about the narrowness of our political elite but we can change the weather about how we are perceived.

Back to all articles